Saturday morning as the fog rolled back towards the coast -- and the fog following the early morning dance-offs at the SF Chefs Rollin with the Red Carpet After Party at E&O Kitchen started to lift -- a powerhouse quartet of food writers assembled at the Union Square Grand Hyatt to discuss the state of the American food journalism scene.
Here's the good news: Because of the immense surge in popularity that the dining out culture has seen recently, it's not as bleak as you'd might expect with the financial challenges facing print food sections.
That being said, if you want to be a food critic, then good luck. There aren't many spots. You need to be creative and very skilled with social media.
As part of this weekend's SF Chefs Festival, the "Editors Panel: Inside the American Restaurant Scene- Coast to Coast Opinions" brought together Miriam Morgan (The San Francisco Chronicle's Food Editor), Kim Severson (Atlanta Bureau Chief for The New York Times and a former Times and Chronicle food writer), Tom Sietsema (The Washington Post Dining Critic and also a former Chronicle food writer), and Margo True (Food Editor of Sunset Magazine). Here are our favorite tidbits:
1. Maintaining Professional Distance Has Its Detriments
Sietsema mentioned how he personally can't get scoops from chefs like bloggers can, because professional food writers and editors have to keep an important objective distance from the restaurants. In Sietsema's words, "A lot of news gets broken over bourbon at midnight." He can't exactly do that with José Andres.
2. Dining Trends Start Out Here
Being a former San Francisco writer transplanted on the East Coast, Sietsema added that he still feels the best industry changing trends start out here. In the 90's, it could take years for a trend to spread. Now they spread as rapidly as a single day. All panelists agreed New York is playing it safe these days. David Chang was not on the panel.
3. Videos Are Happening More Than Ever
Severson had some intriguing insight on where "print" journalism is going next: video. Her bosses in New York always want video nowadays, even if shot on an iPhone. Remember, you can add commercials to the start of videos. Commercials mean money.
4. Cast Your Eyes to the Ocean
What's the next big society food movement now that farm to table is everywhere? Everyone agreed that sustainable seafood will become the hot button story very soon. Humanely raised beef was a close second.
5. Social Media's Important For Audience Interaction
The panel acknowledged the importance of social media today and most are very active (Morgan admitted she's a "dinosaur," but her colleagues keep her in the loop). It's a two way street for professional food writers with their audience. They consider themselves the "diner's advocate," looking out for the best interests of diners. At the same time, Sietsema pointed out that diners now are "reviewing the reviewers" more than ever. Will food writers soon be rated on Yelp?
And to answer the question of where esteemed food writers eat in San Francisco: Morgan and Severson had a reunion dinner at Commonwealth. True is a big fan of Bar Tartine and Coqueta. Sietsema always gets oysters and a margarita at Zuni Café (and probably the roast chicken also).